The Himba are a tribe living in North West Namibia (for images of the areas see my gallery) they have been a semi-nomadic, pastoral people for 900 years and are closely related to the Herero tribe speaking a dialect, Otjihimba, of the Herero language. The number of the Himba is far less than the Herero, perhaps only about 10,000 and whilst the German immigrants of the late 19th Century “westernised” the Herero they undertook genocide of the Himba. Perhaps because of the harsh desert climate in the region where they live and their seclusion from outside influences, the Himba have managed to maintain much of their traditional lifestyle. Members live under a tribal structure based on bilateral descent that helps them live in one of the most extreme environments on earth.
Under bilateral descent, everyone belongs to two clans: the fathers and mothers. The clans are led by the eldest male in the clan. Sons live with their father’s clan, and when daughters marry, they go to live with the clan of their husband. Inheritance of worldly goods follows the female line, that is, a son does not inherit his father’s cattle but his maternal uncle’s instead.
The Himba breed cattle and goats. The responsibility for milking the cows and goats lies with the women. Women take care of the children, and share out the work within the village looking after other children than their own.Women tend to perform more labour-intensive work than men do, such as carrying water to the village and building homes. Water can be considerable distances, we came across a mother and daughter on a 20km round trip. Men handle the political tasks, legal trials and look after the Cattle. Often children from the age of six can be found looking after goats miles from the village on their own.
To make them eligible for marriage both boys and girls are circumcised before puberty. During the circumcision boys should be silent and girls are encouraged to scream. The Himba believe that this act makes them ready for wedding. As soon as the girl is born, her future husband is decided. They get married when the girl is between 14 and 17 years old. Men have up to three to four wives, if a male visits a village it is normal to “lend” a wife. Despite this practice, due to their isolation, the Himba have not been troubled by HIV/AIDS.
In everyday life the Himba people worship the god Mukuru and their ancestors. The fire-keeper is an important person in every family. He keeps the family ancestral fire burning. Every 7 to 10 days he uses the fire to communicate with the Mukuru and family ancestors.
Their diet consists of porridge (made from maze which they buy), milk and goat. It is rare to eat their cows as they are often too large for a village before going off; cows are often sold to the government.
Members of an extended family typically dwell in a village which is a small, circular hamlet of huts and work shelters that surround an okuruwo (ancestral fire) and a central livestock enclosure. Both the fire and the livestock are closely tied to their belief in ancestor worship, the fire representing ancestral protection and the livestock allowing proper relations between human and ancestor.
The Himba wear little clothing, but the women are famous for covering themselves with otjize, a mixture of butter fat and ochre, possibly to protect themselves from the sun. The mixture gives their skins a reddish tinge. This symbolizes earth’s rich red colour and the blood that symbolizes life, and is consistent with the Himba ideal of beauty. Himba women have a rather interesting way to make them smell nice. They slowly burn certain aromatic plants and resins and use the smoke created to perfume and clean themselves.
The Himba wear lot of leather jewellery. They often combine it with shells. Western style of fashion appears too but only on men. Both men and women walk topless. They wear skirts or loincloths made of animal skin. Adult women wear beaded anklets to protect their legs from venomous animal bites.
The hairstyle of the OvaHimba indicates age and social status. Children have two plaits of braided hair. From the onset of puberty the girls’ plaits are moved to the face over their eyes, and they can have more than two. Married women wear headdresses with many streams of braided hair, coloured and put in shape with otjize. Single men wear one one plait backwards to their necks, while married men wear a turban of many otjize-soaked plaits.
Photography of Himba Tribe
The Himba whilst they live in very isolated places are used to Western visitors in their 4×4. They have also learnt that we wish to photograph them due to their inherent beauty, their tribal dress and the amazing landscapes they live in. As a consequence they often seek money without really understanding its value. The money is given to the men and is often used to purchase alcohol as they only other goods they buy is maize flour for porridge. Our guide encouraged gifts of maize flour, sugar, tobacco and sweets which we complied with. This compliance though meant I missed a few shots as our 4×4 didn’t carry the trading goods! My recommendation is carry your own trading goods and then balance the shot against money if requested – second chance on kids tending goats, village with goats in golden light and women on donkeys might not happen. We often drove through villages with nothing but children on their own.
In high contrast situation the Himba skin colour is dark. I had seen Brent Pearson photostream on flickr and whist I loved the images I was not keen on the lighting … mistake. You do not need lights but a reflector (i’d use gold) is a real must. I have managed to pull most of the images from my D800 but my wife used the D7000 and I failed with some images to get usable ones.